The (Mathematical) Value of Strategic Planning

Winston Churchill said that a fanatic is one that can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.  I guess that makes me a strategic planning fanatic.  I believe in it that much.  And I have good reason to believe in strategic planning.  Quite simply, when done well and with purpose, it can transform anything from a school district to your personal finances.  It just works.  And SCSD #1 can point to our math programs, among other things, as a perfect example.

When I arrived at SCSD #1 two years ago, we immediately began the strategic planning process.  One of the first things that we did was to complete a SWOT analysis.  SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  At that time, the top two weaknesses identified by our focus groups were the Mathematics curriculum and the lack of a district goal setting process.   As a result, we immediately implemented a strategic plan and all of our subsequent strategic plans have included goals specifically designed to improve the Mathematics curriculum and our student’s achievement in Mathematics.

But plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work. And work hard we did.  Our Board committed the necessary resources for improvement.  Our administrators hired the best Math teachers we could get.  Our teachers revised and mapped the Mathematics curriculum.  We evaluated student performance data.  We provided focused professional development and instructional coaches.  We added additional AP and honors courses.  And most importantly, our teachers made the commitment to improving their instructional practices.

Admittedly, there’s nothing new or unique about the steps we took.  The key is providing the focus and ongoing evaluation of the strategies you’ve implemented that comes with strategic planning.  In the end, it’s the math truly tells the story.

MAP Mathematics scores for the entire district are up 6.8% from 2010 to 2012.   PAWS test scores for 2011 (2012 scores are yet to be released) were up at every grade level tested and up 8.8% district-wide.   At Pinedale Middle School, 87.5% of our students were proficient or advanced on the PAWS Mathematics test.  I’d put that up against any middle school in the state.

And at the high school this year, 82% of our students that took an AP exam in Mathematics received a score of 3 or better on the test.   Students who score a 3 or better on the AP exam qualify to receive college credit.  The national average for scoring a 3 or better on the AP exam is 57.5%.  And this includes an increase of students who are taking AP Mathematics courses at Pinedale High School from zero in 2010 to twenty-two students in 2012.

George Polya said, “Mathematics consists in proving the most obvious thing in the least obvious way.”  That sure reminds me of the Stats class I took in grad school.  But perhaps we need to look at things in the least obvious way sometimes.  Should it take a SWOT analysis, focus groups and a strategic plan to tell us we needed to make some obvious improvements to our Math program?  Maybe we did.  Regardless of how you come to the conclusion that you need to get better, a focused strategic plan is certainly the vehicle to get you to where you want to go.

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About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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One Response to The (Mathematical) Value of Strategic Planning

  1. Dahlia says:

    Wonderful news Jay! Thanks for the update. This gives me renewed hope in our program and the long term prospects for my kids.

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